A Road Guide from Manali to Leh

By Saundarya Rai

Explorers and travel bloggers often tell stories of their adventures of the Manali-Leh route; some call it once in a lifetime experience while others see it as another trail to unwind. This route comprises of many passes that lead you to Leh and its undying charm. The total length of the highway is 490kms and it’s known to be one of the most thrilling road trips in India.  

The route begins in Manali, a beautiful valley that has undergone many changes but hasn’t lost any of its hill station vibes. It has great weather through the year and there’s a lot one can do in Manali.  From Trekking to picnic near the river, Manali will offer you the best – and if not anything else, the beauty that surrounds it will entertain you.
On the way from Manali to Rohtang

Rohtang la - Gramphu

A two hour drive from Manali should get you to Rohtang - the first pass on the journey at 13075ft. For most part of the year, this pass stays closed due to heavy snowfall. Only from June – October motor vehicles are allowed to explore it. It has made its way into many movies; a fact which is evident once you reach the pass – the scenery is purely cinematic. People often travel here to see thick layers of snow on each side of the road. Maintenance of the road is great, so you won’t face any sort of inconvenience except maybe traffic during the season time. 14kms away lies a lonely town known as Gramphu, from where the road also diverts to Spiti Valley. Gramphu doesn’t have a lot to offer except a good spot to rest and some supper. Till Kokhsar the roads are downhill and don’t promise the most comfortable experience. Driving here with a slow pace is a must because you never know what to expect from nature.

Sissu – Tandi
Another half an hour later you end up in Sissu, a village in Lahaul Valley. This village stays disconnected from the world half of the year due to heavy snowfall. In Sissu, the dense forest surroundings make you feel alienated from the world, combine that with its surreal natural beauty of waterfalls and you have yourself a perfect getaway. Next is Tandi which is an important part of the Route, it has the only Petrol pump you’ll get before Leh. That’s 360kms without petrol - so make sure you have enough before you leave Tandi.

Much more than a beautiful city surrounded by snowy mountains, Keylong is the administrative hub for Lahaul and Spiti district; it is also a hub for travelers and explorers. With a number of monasteries and temples, you will feel calm and composed here. You can even trek or hike to Barachaa la, an intersection point of Spiti, Lahul and Leh; the mountains from each part of Himachal can be seen here. A blend of cultures and mountains with a splendid view, makes for this must visit destination.
When in Keylong, why not take a dip in the mesmerizing Suraj Tal. It’s a calm lake surrounded by mountains, also known as the lake of the Sun God. Locals say that if you swim in this lake you get cleansed from all your sins. Another plus point is that the cold water will keep you refreshed for your journey ahead.
Zing Zing Bar

Jispa – Zing Zing Bar
22kms ahead of Keylong you arrive at Jispa; another village in Lahul. The best season to travel here is from June – September if you actually want to explore the village. The beautiful riverside view makes it a great place to camp and spend the night, listening to the river flow and watch the snow capped mountains fade in a sky full of stars.

From here it will take you 30kms, to reach Zing Zing Bar. Picking up from the quote 'name so nice you say it twice', this location delivers to it. Zing Zing Bar is a beautiful road that goes in a zig-zag pattern on the Manali-Leh route. People usually camp here at night to spend some time wandering around the roads and enjoy a relaxing cup of tea - little things like these have so much importance in the hills. But sometimes during rain you can get stuck here as the roads fill up with water.
Baralacha La

Baralacha La

22 kms after crossing Zing Zing Bar, you cross the second pass of your journey, Baralacha La - which is at a height of 16043ft. Given the title of world’s deadliest pass, here is the thrill you’ve been waiting for on your journey.  It is always advisable to cross it before Noon because both sides of the road are covered in snow and there is also a stream that you need to cross to complete this pass. The melting of the snow might cause the current in the stream to increase by night. Other than that, the view is spectacular as you get closer and closer to Leh.

Sarchu -  Lachulung La

Sarchu is the hub for campers, 32kms away from Baralacha La it’s between the boundary of Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir. It’s one of the most important spots on the Leh-Manali route. The place has unique resemblance to Ladakh with its sand-stone texture hills. In earlier times people used to call it a trading hub on the ancient Silk Route. 

Lachulung La is another pass amidst this route. It’s 24kms before Pang, at a good height of 16579ft. Some say it’s an auspicious location. Locals tie prayer flags around rocks near the milestone of Lachulung La respecting their age old tradition.

Pang – More Plains
Plains near Pang

Pang a good place on the Manali-Leh route to grab a bite. By this time your eyes will grow tired of the desert and start looking for a little bit of civilization, which Pang offers - but don’t expect too much because you will only find a nomad lifestyle here to adapt. This little town is very charismatic and gives you reasons to have a little layover here so you can absorb all the sights and chase the wanderlust within you.
Like the name suggests, More plains is a road on the plains of Himachal 31kms ahead of Pang. After a really rocky ride you will enjoy being on this marvelously expanded road. There are absolutely no shops here or any sort of civilization to connect with. You’ll be all alone with nature and its allure, with otherworldly Himalayan panorama all around you, which will make you feel at someplace other than Earth.

Upshi-Tso Moriri  

After a journey of 114kms from More Plains you’ll find Upshi -another village on your way to Leh. This village has a population of 128 people (which is probably equal to the amount of members on some people’s whatsapp groups). The people are very kind here and put a lot of effort to make the guests’ stay as comfortable as it can get.

173kms from here lies Tso Moriri - known to be one the magical lakes in Leh. This is one destination you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re traveling through this route. The blue water, still very cold under the burning sun makes you question nature. A beautiful lake resting in the mountains, hidden from civilization, absolutely unpolluted and fresh - this lake treasures more stories than people do. The location is perfect to practice your photography skills, and make your own stories.

Tanglang la- Hemis

132kms from Upshi lies the last and highest pass on your journey, Tanglang- which is an achievement of its own. The view from here onwards is phenomenal as you get closer to Leh. At 17511ft people sometimes get a little dizzy as oxygen level decreases, so always carry first aid with you. If you’re lucky you might be able to find a little bit of snow here, otherwise it’s still a beautiful road like no other.
One of the most famous villages in Leh, Hemis holds importance because of its magnificent monastery which is 79kms away from Tanglang La. Established by a Ladakhi King, this monastery is an example of royalty. Monks here have kept it’s beauty alive by maintaining it since 1672. A historical site in the valley of Leh, a true mountain experience is never complete without knowing about the traditions practiced there and the beliefs that never reach the surface.

Pangong Tso- Leh

Pangong Tso

As seen in many Bollywood movies, the hype for Pangong Lake has increased as soon as we put a camera there. This lake is frozen more than half of the year. Perfectly framed by mountains and desert, this lake is a must visit on every list. Not only people who follow the Manali Leh route visit it, but even tourists make a day trip from Ladakh to find this small bit of heaven that exists only here.

This brings us to the final destination, Leh. 224kms away from Pangong this city is where one returns back to civilization again.  Leh is known for so many things. From its breathtaking locations to its traditional Thukpa - everything makes you fall in love with Leh. A bit unusual, every dairy product comes from yak, and the tea is made from butter, something new to encounter every day. The markets are a lovely affair here where you not only find the best jam but also the best people. You can visit many monasteries here that will give you a wider horizon on the outlook of Leh. All this and much more makes for the journey of a lifetime which will remain etched in your memory for times to come.

About the Author:

Saundarya is a student of journalism and mass communication, who believes in writing about her feelings rather than disclosing them. Her love for writing is her foremost priority and she wishes to write for a living. A frequent contributor at UntravelYou can find more of her work on Instagram at @melfab.

Picture Courtesy: Untravel.com


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